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Bill aimed at boosting Indiana casinos advances

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An Indiana Senate committee on Wednesday endorsed plans aimed at helping the state's casinos stave off growing competition, although its fate is uncertain, with some legislators worried about the potential loss of $100 million annually in taxes from the industry and others wary of any gambling expansion.

The Senate Public Policy Committee voted 9-0 in support of a bill that would overhaul the state's casino taxes, along with allowing Indiana's 10 riverboat casinos to move inland to adjacent property and permit live table games at the two horse track casinos.

Casino officials told committee members that Indiana has some of the highest gambling tax rates in the country. The bill would eliminate the current $3-per-person admission tax in favor of a slight increase in the tax on the casino's gambling profits and drop taxes on gambling credits given to visitors.

Ryan Soultz of Michigan City's Blue Chip casino called that a tax on a marketing expense. He said eliminating the tax "would allow us to market much more aggressively. It would allow us to do more promotionally."

The state is already expecting a 15-percent drop in tax revenues from its 13 casinos — from $614 million it collected last year to about $520 million for the 2015 budget year. State officials blame the decline in part on new casinos in Ohio, Michigan and Illinois taking business away from the Indiana sites.

Little attention was paid to the projected state tax revenue loss during Wednesday's hearing. That will change as the proposal now goes to the Senate Appropriations Committee, whose chairman, Luke Kenley, R-Noblesville, said he's skeptical of the tax overhaul.

"I knew that the casinos wanted to do some changes in their operating position, for example vis-a-vis their location or their profile on their current location. I didn't realize they were seeking a tax cut," Kenley said. "I'm not sure that's there any reason for us to give them a tax cut. I mean why should we give them a tax cut? I don't understand that."

Soultz argued that Indiana casinos face a severe tax disadvantage. He said the Michigan City casino pays an effective state tax rate of about 32 percent, while a nearby tribal casino across the state line in Michigan pays less than 8 percent.

Jim Brown, chief operating officer of Indianapolis-based Centaur Gaming, said the company's Hoosier Park casino and horse track in Anderson could add a few hundred jobs if it is allowed to have live table games, such as blackjack and roulette. Only electronic gambling machines are currently allowed at Hoosier Park and Indiana Grand Casino in Shelbyville.

Brown said Indiana's casinos are facing their greatest threat since the first one opened 17 years ago.

"We're not asking for handouts. We're not asking for bailouts," Brown said. "We're asking for your help in taking our industry and assisting it legislatively in becoming more competitive against out-of-state competition."

Senate Public Policy Committee Chairman Ron Alting, R-Lafayette, said he knows supporters of the changes will face arguments that they would represent an expansion of gambling in the state. Alting disputed that notion, saying casinos wouldn't be allowed to move from their current properties and that the additional live table games at the horse track casinos are already available in electronic versions.

"Maybe we need to look in the mirror and revisit what we believe the definition of expanding of gambling is," Alting said.

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  • Observations
    I drove last night to the Indiana Casino in Shelbyville approx 40 miles fom my house. The negatives were all too many; signage and lighting in and around the area were VERY POOR. A couple of times I had stop my car to read the signs as they are small and dimly lit (I don't wear or need glasses). The 2 lane roads and intersections right off the interstate are a major accident waiting to happen as they are no real streetlights. I drove up to the front and ended up in the valet parking area (I drove away.I thought there was additional parking in front of the place (as the sign said-there was but it was across the street where buses took you to the front door- with no sign notating that). A lot of wasted space in front and a parking garage that I ended up in that was also poorly marked to the point that I and the 2 cars in front of me had to pull a 3 point turn by using an open handicap spot. I then walked in to a spacious beautiful casino that has a minimal number of gamblers in it and it seemed as though everyone was smoking (i am a non-smoker). No live table gambling which is the only way that I will play Craps or Roulette. No energy or enthuiasm from electronic games! Therefore, I ended up spending a lot less money than I planned to. I did have 1 cocktail that cost $8. The whole experience reinforces why I fly out to Vegas a couple of times a year (a lot more fun)!
  • Confused
    I am confused. I thought going smoke-free would have killed casinos? Maybe they should go smoke free and more people would think about going.
  • Senate Leader Calls For Review of Hoosier Lottery Deal
    Former Gov. Mitch Daniels’ recent decision to hire GTECH to take over a number of the Hoosier Lottery’s functions – including revamping the games that are offered in hopes of drawing more customers – is what those critics ought to focus on. “You want an expansion of gaming, I’ll show you an expansion of gaming without a word from the General Assembly. It’s called the lottery,” Alting said. “Unbelievable.” http://courierpressblogs.com/news/capitoljournal/?p=290

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